In the history of the internet, few film productions have ever faced as much contention and public scrutiny as director/co-writer Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters. Particularly, the recasting of the ghoul-battling scientists as women provoked unprecedented ire among certain (almost entirely masculine) corners of Twitter, Reddit and other social medias often utilized for criticizing women.
But Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (who also wrote Feig’s The Heat) have crafted both a response to the incredible expectations attached to a franchise this beloved, and a rebuff to those who rebuked the film before it was even made. Their response takes the form of an allegorical subtext running through the entirety of the new film, a retort to the concept of “fan service” within a franchise.
For the first hour of Ghostbusters, much of this rebuttal takes the form of male voices of power discrediting the efforts of the new Ghostbusters crew (played by Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig). Though their characters are highly trained and knowledgeable professionals, men at every turn seem to get in the way of letting the Ghostbusters actually do their jobs and bust ghosts. Any video proof of phantoms in New York City is met with a hoard of YouTube comments that don’t have much more to say than “FAKE FAKE FAKE” or “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.” The city’s mayor (Andy Garcia), in an attempt to corral hysteria over paranormal activity, cries fraud after every successful ghost bust. Even the most iconic Ghostbuster, Bill Murray, is called in to refute the women’s research, skill and effort. Murray appears as a “noted skeptic“ Martin Heiss, a man the news turns to when determining the new Ghostbusters’ legitimacy (his response when asked if they are the real deal: “Hell no”).
As the film approaches its third act, what has largely existed as subtext emerges as a full-on ideological battle. When the Ghostbusters finally descend upon midtown Manhattan, the iconography established in the 1984 film actually takes up arms against the new team. First, Slimer, a glob-like phantasm and the unofficial mascot of the Ghostbusters series, appears. He commandeers the Ghostbusters’ hearse and attempts to murder them with it before absconding into the night on a demented joy-ride. Then, as they march further into the maelstrom of ghost activity, the women are attacked by a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade of supernatural floats, notably lead by a balloon version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Finally, when they face the main antagonist of the film (now a specter, voiced by Neil Casey), he decides to take the form of the Ghostbusters logo itself. Initially, the logo appears as it has in the past on lunchboxes, action figures and countless pieces of ephemera—but it then proceeds to grow into a horrifyingly large and grotesque creature. At the climax of the film, Feig and Dippold show the tremendous weight and destructiveness that the legacy of 1984 film has imposed on their production. The very burden of the franchise threatens to destroy these talented women.
In order to finally dispose of the poisonous legacy, other totems of the original film must be destroyed as well. The Ghostbusters guide their hearse (with Slimer still inside) down a destructive vortex, sucking the malevolent logo out of the picture. As the world returns to normalcy, the women stand firm in their abilities and are no longer inhibited by the corrosive obligation to past iconography.
By the end of the film, the new Ghostbusters still resemble the old Ghostbusters in more ways than can be counted. But they and the filmmakers have set a course for the franchise moving forward: one that chooses how and when to incorporate the legacy of the original, rather than a path predetermined by either the creators or the fans of the previous film.
Ghostbusters pleads that if the goal is a big-budget studio crowd-pleaser, these are the people who you’re gonna call. Paul Feig has now directed four financially successful and well-received studio comedies in five years. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are among the most successful and talented female comediennes of the present day, while breakout SNL stars Jones and McKinnon are poised to follow their path.
Major studios are becoming continually more reliant on reimaginings and continuations as the dominant inspiration for their films. Filmmakers need to understand their relationship (both helpful and harmful) with their source material and the world into which their film is released. And Feig and Dippold have now made a statement on what is likely the best possible way to have these films thrive: to leave the professionals to their job and let them make the best possible film they can.